Gwen Davis
City of SeaTac residents posed questions to the City Council April 26.

SeaTac City council members face off with prickly constituents

By Gwen Davis

The City of SeaTac held a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, giving residents the opportunity to directly ask questions to council members and citizen concerns were plainly evident.

"This is the third town hall meeting since the current council took office,” mayor Michael Siefkes said at the beginning of the meeting. “We’d like to hear about the things the city council can address and do a better job.”

Overall, people’s questions and comments expressed satisfaction for how council members were tackling city business but some had pointed questions.

A resident asked why council members had gone over budget with their personal travel expenses. All council members are allowed an amount of job-related transportation money, but a couple members spent well over what they were allotted. The taxpayers will be directly billed for that, the resident said. Councilmember Tony Anderson replied that council members needed to make trips to Olympia recently to meet with state lawmakers about legislative items that were important to the city. Council members had organized groups of around 30 people to meet with lawmakers. When that number of people show up in a state senator's office, it makes big impact, he said.

A couple of residents asked about the $24 million that the city could have collected but didn’t. The loss came from the council’s decision in 2010 to not adequately charge people for short-term parking in SeaTac. Back then, it was reasoned that people who were visiting the city for less than a couple of hours wouldn’t have to pay for parking, but it was reported recently that not by not charging those people the city lost out on millions it could have easily gathered over the years. Siefkes and other council members said that moving forward, all visitors will be charged.

Councilmember Rick Forschler lamented that the city has repeatedly lost opportunities to collect revenue from its close relationship with the airport. "This community has lost 2 to 3 billion dollars from mitigation with the Port,” he said.

One resident who spoke through a translator, talked about the Firs Mobile Home Park community and asked council members for help. The community of 70 Latino families may have to move, since the landowner decided he’s interested in developing the property. All those families now face dislocation.

However, Councilmember Peter Kwon responded that the city has been going to lengths to help the families. He said the city is officially supporting a bill — HB 1884 — that would increase the amount of relocation assistance to mobile home owners by an additional $2,500.

Councilmember Pam Fernald expressed frustration with the question. “Legally, the city has done everything we can,” she said. "It hurts my heart when you say, ‘why haven’t you helped me?’ We’ve tried to do everything.”

Councilmember Erin Sitterley backed up Fernald's sentiment. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, and have met people from all over the globe living in SeaTac,” she said. "We have so much diversity, and we’re loving and good [council. It hurts my heart to paint us into a terrible, dark corner."

A resident dittoed the council members’ comments. "There’s a campaign underway to consider that this city is a bigoted city,” he said. "I know you people, you are some of the most generous, kind, loving people, and now you're being portrayed as something else. You deserve kudos for what you’ve been doing for the people at Fir. A lot of these people should be coming up here and thanking you. Thank you for making this a brighter SeaTac."

Kwon also reminded attendees that the city passed a diversity proclamation several months ago which clearly stated that the city values and safeguards ethnic diversity.

However, resident Luis Escamilla said after the meeting that while he is encouraged by the council’s regard for diversity, there is still a lot more work to be done. He pointed out that most of the attendees at the meeting were white, even though more than half of SeaTac is made up of ethnic minorities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I think they have tried to help the Firs community, but as we saw tonight, most of the people they’re hearing from are not the ones affected,” he said.

Escamilla also noted that while passing a diversity proclamation is a good first step, he’s concerned that council members feel they crossed the diversity challenge off their bucket list of things to do, and don’t have to give diversity issues more attention.

“But the truth is, protecting our diverse community is something that needs to be continually worked on,” he said.

A resident asked about having attractions in SeaTac so when people fly in, they’ll have incentive to stay and tour for a bit, giving the city a chance to collect revenue.

“Yes, right now there’s nothing to keep them here,” Anderson replied. "We have to build the roads to keep them here, we have the airport to bring them here, but we need something to keep them overnight. The only thing we have is the botanical garden. We need more opportunities for people staying in our city.”

Fernald piggybacked off of Anderson’s comment with a playful suggestion: “What we ned is a giant ferris wheel on the east side of the highway so when people are up there they see Mt. Rainier, the mountains on both sides and the Sound,” she said.

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